Wednesday, January 18, 2012

DHS and Politics

Behind Homeland Security's monitoring of web sites from Undernews

So, why is the DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, the agency with broad scope and the disturbing name that echos of 1930's Germany, monitoring articles and comments on websites ranging from the New York Times to the Huffington Post? Your tax dollars at work,

And, doing more than monitoring "capture public reaction to major government proposals", they are also likely acting to shape and deflect political action by citizens. This is from key Obama advisor Cass Susskind

Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.

Ever notice how on some comment boards or chat rooms its almost impossible to do any effective organizing, or even to carry on an intelligent discussion. There are almost always people there who are a) trying to tell everyone the story is wrong, b) telling everyone that nothing can be done to change things, or c) generally disrupting the conversation completely with silly, irrelevant posts and supposed flame wars between two such posters of silly posts.

When you see that, it isn't an accident. Now we know, thanks to EPIC's FOIA request that the DHS is monitoring and participating in these websites, including the comment areas. We also know that various PR firms offer the same as a paid service to their corporate clients.

The end result is that a political article that should be a spark to political organizing almost never is. I used to see this sort of organizing done back when the internet was new. Not only would you get an email detailing a problem, but people would be starting to organize to do something about it. These days, you see the same sort of article online, but the comments below almost never have any serious organizing going on. If you see anyone trying to start, watch how quickly the 'trolls' jump in and usually start either screaming at the organizers, or often just screaming at each other to take away the space that would otherwise be available for a free citizenry in a democracy to comment, communicate and organize.

We now see this in several areas of public debate. The government actively telling the citizens what to think and what course should be taken, as well as steps to disrupt any activity and speech to the contrary. This is most obvious on the question of drug policy, where any alternatives to the current prohibition is almost unspeakable in the public sphere. The government and Wall Street's media arm both immediately attack and blast anyone who dares to speak of ending prohibition, and thus scaling back the huge prison-industrial complex that rests upon that policy. Its almost as bad when it comes to the wars. Again, the government and the media have both tended to gang up on anyone questioning whether spending billions to kill sheepherders in Afghanistan really enhances the security of Americans in any real way.

Now it appears that we'll see more and more of this, as the government not only monitors but participates in the online discussions of our supposedly free society. Whenever you look at a string of comments on the internet and see a confusing mess that isn't really a discussion, remember that DHS is probably monitoring and participating in that website. And if not DHS, then a variety of PR firms and security companies that offer the same service.

How to get around this? Spot like-minded people on the internet, and then try to find a way to talk directly to them. Swap email addresses. Remember that you can create closed memberships on websites and forums to keep the trolls out. And, remember that email itself was the first mass-communication tool on the internet. An email list where the trolls aren't allowed to post is still an effective tool.

OK, Back to the SOPA/PIPA blackout. Sorry to interrupt, but I thought an article about government monitoring and interference in the internet was relevant enough to put out even on blackout day.

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